How Far is a Long Walk?

One Mile Radius from Market Square, Knoxville
One Mile Radius from Market Square, Knoxville

Earlier this week I wrote about Emory Place. To take the photographs and speak with Tim Hill for the article, I walked from close to Market Square. I stopped at Vienna Coffee along the way and sat for fifteen or twenty minutes. I didn’t stop because I was tired or needed caffeine. I stopped because I had so over-estimated the time it would take to make the walk that I was going to be seriously early.

For the step-counters among us, it was probably a couple of thousand steps, not much more than a dent in the 10,000 we’re told we should walk every day. Tim and I talked about relative distances and it made me wonder how far the walk took me. It’s less than a mile. Fifteen or twenty minutes, depending on pace. In other words, it’s no big deal.

The map above shows a radius of one mile from Market Square. A mile from Market Square gets you well out Cumberland, to most of UT, including Neyland Stadium and to the majority of Fort Sanders. A mile from Market Square will get you across the bridge of your choice into south Knoxville, as well as most of the recent development along Sevier and to Suttree Landing Park. To the east you can reach Morningside Park, a good piece of Magnolia and Parkridge. To the north you’d be well into the Fourth and Gill neighborhood. Emory Place, Old Grey Cemetery and all the development nearby all falls into the radius.

It’s logical, then, to think that we’d comfortably inhabit all that space on foot. Humans are rarely logical. For the last century or more we’ve increasingly escaped from traveling by foot. What was once a necessity, now is either beneath us or is a novelty to be counted and compared. When distance from car to door is the measure of convenience, walking a mile becomes a grand thought. But we aren’t consistent.

Downtown With West Town Mall and Parking Overlay,From Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare

As the illustration above shows, a walk from the parking lot on one side of West Town Mall to the other is the same as walking from the river past what most people consider the northern border of downtown. Yet, the mall is preferred by some over downtown because they don’t want to walk so far. Of course it isn’t logical, but we’re not logical creatures, right? Park in the Old City and walk to Market Square and we think we’ve gone somewhere. Walk from JC Penny to Dillard’s and we haven’t gone that far.

It’s also interesting that we change our perception of cumbersome distances to walk when we travel to other cities. Tim and I talked about New York City and how far we walk when we visit there. 20,000 steps, or about 10 miles in a day isn’t unusual for me when I’m there or in other big cities. I do use public transportation and Uber, but I really enjoy walking. It’s the best way to get to know your surroundings. For the most part, if I can’t leave my hotel and walk to something interesting, I’m not very happy.

One Mile Radius from Times Square, New York City

So how does our one mile radius from Market Square compare to a one mile radius from Times Square? The map above shows that a one mile radius from Times Square will get you from one side of Manhattan to the other. It won’t get you as far south as the Village, but it will get you well past Macy’s, Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.

To the north, you can comfortably reach Central Park. And really, once you get there, is it really that big a deal to keep walking and watching the scenery of Central Park or the upper east or west side? When we visit, we expect to walk and, maybe without realizing it, we tend to enjoy it.

So, what’s the point? Well, as much as there is one, it’s simply that walking, beyond being healthy and an environmentally a great choice for moving about, is also how we connect to our surroundings. If the distance from beginning to destination is simply an inconvenience, it is easy to dismiss it as unimportant or an irritant, to tear it down or pave it over. It’s what we’ve done increasingly for the last hundred years.

For our pursuit of a walking-free lifestyle, we’ve become obese, dirtied our air, altered our climate and we’ve become disconnected from our local environment. I didn’t consciously fall in love with cities with all this in mind, but these issues are good reason to give walkable, pedestrian-friendly places another look. We’ve literally been killing ourselves in an attempt to live otherwise. It’s not logical, but then, as I pointed out at the beginning of this article, logic and human behavior rarely coincide.